“You’re going to read her texts, right?” other mothers asked, when I bought my daughter Molly a cell phone in fourth grade. I thought back to the intricately folded triangles of paper that sat on my bureau untouched by my mother when I was a teen.
“Absolutely not,” I answered.
I guess it’s the writer in me. I believe that words are precious and the people who write them have ownership over them. What we write is meant for a specific audience, whether that’s hundreds of people in a Facebook post, or one person in a private message. I wouldn’t read my daughter’s journal, so why would I read her texts?
When I handed Molly her phone for the first time I said, “I will respect your privacy, unless you show me I should be doing otherwise.”
I had three simple rules:
1. No selfies in any kind of undress.
2. No writing unkind things to or about anyone else.
3. Never text something you wouldn’t be okay with the rest of the school seeing. (Which goes back to rules #1 and #2.)
Parenting in a small town can be like living under a security blanket in these kinds of situations. I warned Molly that while I didn’t read her texts, most of the other moms from school read their kid’s texts, so I would find out pretty quickly if she strayed from our manifesto.
Going against the grain of what the other moms are doing can definitely give you pause, especially when people ask if you’re sure you’re doing the right thing. There’s always the nagging question in your mind, “What if everyone else is right and I’m wrong?” “Middle school girls send naked pictures to boys all the time. And it’s always the ones you least expect, the smart girls, the ones who make honor roll.”
My sister, who is a teacher, lowered her voice, “Girls like Molly. Are you sure you don’t want to check her phone?”
Then there were the horror stories whispered over coffee, “Did you hear about that 12-year-old girl who thought she was talking to a boy her own age on Instagram, but was really talking to a human sex trafficker?”
After hearing things like this I almost wavered. But, I couldn’t rectify taking away my trust from Molly when she hadn’t broken it in the first place. I was thinking about the end game, the kind of lifelong relationship I wanted with my daughter, one with mutual respect and trust. So I stuck my ground despite many moments of self-doubt over the years and waited for the day when it would become clear that I had made the right decision.
Instead of reading Molly’s texts, I tried to get to know her as well as any mom could know their pre-teen daughter. After long days of school, sports practices and homework, my daughter loves to unwind by watching shows with me while we wait for my husband to get home from work. We watched the entire Gilmore Girls series, an evening at a time over dinner. Recently, I braved the loud music and terrifyingly upbeat instructor at Soul Cycle with Molly so I could understand her insistence that this spin class was life changing. I had to admit it was pretty fun despite the soreness in the all the wrong places for days after. I also joined Snapchat so she could send me selfies with puppy ears throughout the day.
People always say that you have to be a parent, not a friend, but I am finding that it is possible to be both.
My daughter’s in eighth grade now and with that comes boyfriends. She dated a boy a little while ago. Their relationship basically entailed maintaining Snapchat streaks, texting back and forth and a trip to the movies once or twice. But after a month or two, like most young romances, things fizzled out. A few days after the breakup, Molly brought her phone to me and showed me the string of texts the boy had just sent her. And I very clearly saw that guy, the one who she will probably come across again throughout her dating life. The guy who begs a woman to take him back one minute, then slings verbally abusive statements at her the next. And in that moment, when I was able to talk to my daughter about the ways we allow men to treat us, I knew that I had done the right thing.